Principle Based Teaching, Part III – Rory Miller

Paul McRedmond describes his approach as “Awareness Based Teaching,” or ABT. Mechanically, breaking people is not difficult. The human body is not a mystery, or, at least, it shouldn’t be for any reasonably active adult. We all know what hurts. We all know which functions can’t be disrupted (breathing, circulation). And we all know how to move, whether it is pushing a car or swinging a hammer. The mechanics of breaking people are no different than any other mechanics. Physics doesn’t change in a fight.

Once you understand this, self-defense is mostly a matter of learning to see. Learning to recognize opportunities and available tools quickly enough and exploit them ruthlessly enough. Hence, ABT.

Training awareness is broad and deep. “Situational awareness” gets thrown around a lot as a phrase, but it is useless unless you have the training and experience to know what to be aware of. Seeing things is not and never has been the problem. It has always been noticing the important things and recognizing the unimportant so that they can be disregarded. So, breadth: Awareness spans from understanding the uses of terrain to working in the social milieu and down to the nuances of targeting and power generation.

And depth: Each piece of awareness can be studied at many levels. Group dynamics can be a life time study and so can body mechanics and communication.

Principles-Based Training is dependent on awareness, in both the student and the instructor. Honing that awareness will be a lifetime endeavor.

The next aspect works on a more micro scale. You will be teaching physical skills. We know that teaching an endless series of technique is an incredibly inefficient way to teach. We also know that memorizing technique is almost worthless in a fight. Attempting to process information consciously is far too slow.

Caveat, though. There is one potential problem with this teaching method: If your measures of success (grading) is based on what your students can parrot back, students trained this way will not test well. They will be able (for example) to improvise jointlocks under pressure, but they won’t be able to name a single lock or demonstrate a named lock.

Whatever you teach, there is a way to break it down to make it easy for the student to grasp intuitively. Breaking it down to the right chunks, combined with the right training methodology, make for much faster gains in applicable physical and interactive skills. I call the classes of technique broken down to the sweet spot for fast learning “Building Blocks.”

This will be idiosyncratic. No two people will break down what they teach in the same way. All practitioners who have gotten to the unconscious competence level of skill will have slightly different intuitive understanding of what they do and why it works. In other words, there is no perfect list. This is about what works, not about what looks pretty.

For instance, “striking” is not one of my Building Blocks. I teach striking in three parts– “Power Generation” + “Targets” + “Conformation.” Conformation is just a fancy way of saying “How to use the right weapon so you don’t hurt yourself.” And Power Generation is a combination of three things as well– Conservation (structure) Stealing (using gravity, the environment and the threat’s motion) and Generation (the things you do with your own muscles to hit hard.)  Broken down in this way, the student gets comfortable (and decent power) with a variety of handstrikes in about three hours.

But remember it is a deep study as well. Three hours to good, solid hits. But years to get the nuances of each piece and a lifetime to explore all the other ways to hit hard.

That’s my breakdown, my building block. It would be perfectly valid and work just as well to break it down as Hand, Forearm and Elbow; Power Generation and Targeting.

Homework. Breakdown whatever you teach into chunks that make sense to you. Try breaking them down in different ways. For instance, I teach takedowns as Momentum Ploys; Sweeps (Static and Moving, moving broken down into draw, cross, or stop); true throws (full entry, half entry, and reverse); Leverage; Locks (up and down); Base destruction and; Combinations of the above. But it is perfectly valid and would work just as well to break them down based on balance principles as simply “Getting the Center of Gravity off the Base”. Move the center of gravity, change the base, combine those two. If I had a class full of physicists, I’d probably go with that as the chunk. Again, there are many ways to be right.

I’m going to go a little meta on you for the next set of things to understand. You must understand what you are doing. For physical skills, when you go hands on, there are only three valid reasons.

You are either:

Trying to escape

Trying to get the threat under control

Trying to disable the threat

You must understand these because these are three very different things. The body mechanics are different. Grappling and locking arts are incompatible with a strategy of escaping. Doing damage to the threat involves kinetic energy going towards his core, which is the absolute wrong direction for your kinetic energy to be moving if you are trying to escape.

The physics of these three reasons are different, thus the body mechanics will be different.

The goals of these three reasons are different, thus the best strategies and tactics will be different.

Evaluate your system as it stands and evaluate what you teach as you teach. Are you teaching your students how to escape, disable or control? And be very, very careful, because fighting is nowhere on that list and the goals, strategy, physics and body mechanics of fighting are just as unrelated.

And the last. You need to understand the strategy of your system. Your priorities. The biggest weakness in modern RBSD (Reality Based Self Defense) systems is that they collect a variety of real cool techniques but usually have no strategic thread that ties them into a useable package. The human animal organizes information. Organized information, organized skills are far easier to use. Especially under pressure.


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